Rain and Sunshine

Earlier this week we had a thunderstorm of pretty epic proportions. In fact, I have no shame in admitting that I almost crapped myself a couple of times, thanks to some ear-splitting booms and claps that rolled out of the skies.

Downpours in Bedfordshire

It wasn’t just a show of sound and light though; after a long build up in which the bump and I slowly melted under a fairly oppressive cloud of intense humidity, the heavens opened. The downpours were long and penetrating – just what the veg patches needed – and the Smallest Smallholding has, as expected, gone into overdrive and everything is growing at a rate of knots.

Raspberries, calabrese, parsnips, peas and more in the long patch

Raspberries, calabrese, parsnips, peas and more in the long patch

My onions and perennial wallflowers were the only plant life that took a beating from the storm, whilst everything else has thrived with a heady combination of hot days and squally showers. Another benefit of this mix of sunshine and rain is that the soil is virtually fluffy, so weeds (even the mile-long tap roots of thuggish alkinet) are so easy to pull. This, together with my no dig approach, has meant that keeping on top of the veg patches has been so easy.

Bumble bee enjoying a geranium

So it’s the first week of June and the veg is romping away, the roses are blooming and the Smallest Smallholding is just so full. This time of year is so invigorating. Armies of honey bees and fat bumblebees are jigging and rubbing themselves with tangible glee all over our geraniums, lavender, foxgloves, toadflax and alliums. The fledged blackbirds are out in force, and the hedgehogs are resolutely on slug duty at night. I’m having a battle of wills with an undisclosed feathered or furry critter who keeps pulling out my strawberry plants (two miserable looking plants have survived) and it’s all a bit wild and out of control… and when I stand back and look… there’s still so, so much to do.

But do you know what? It’s totally OK. It’s keeping me busy, occupied, and dare I say it… happy.

Podding peas

And in three weeks I shall be on maternity leave. Yes, we have a list of things as long as my arm to do in the house before my due date, including some significant renovations and decorating, but I can’t keep my mind off my vegetable patches, my borders, my plans for everything.

I should be worried, I should be brimming with anxiety and how the hell I’m going to cope with the weeks and months ahead. The state of the house should have me wringing my hands and raging. But somehow, my garden is taking that energy and channelling it into something positive. Something I can build on in the future, and something I can make good with.

Early pea flowers

How to start a new no-dig bed

I’m not a fan of digging, so it’s no surprise that I’m a huge advocate of no-dig plots.

I’ve wanted to increase my growing space quick and easily this year, and being well over the half-way mark in my pregnancy and with a slightly dodgy back to boot, a no-dig plot is the perfect solution. And luckily for me, someone who has very little patience and an ever-decreasing attention span, creating a new no-dig vegetable patch is quick and relatively fuss-free.

So how did I do it?

My new plot was going straight onto lawn, so I mowed the lawn down first and quickly removed any perennial weeds. If you have time, you can lay down a layer of cardboard or pond liner to exclude light for at least six months. This weakens invasive perennial roots (think nettle and bindweed) and they eventually give up (or are really easy to pull out). As my patch was mostly grass and clover, I simply laid out some bamboo canes on my lawn as a general guide for where I wanted my new plot to go.

No dig plot - cardboard

Next up, I laid out a layer of quick thick cardboard. I initially had a few large pieces of cardboard to hand, but having completely underestimated how much I actually needed, managed to pick up some little bits for free from my local plant nursery and layer those to ensure all the grass was covered.

Next, I emptied a load of well rotted organic manure onto the cardboard to weigh it down. I used 8 x 50litre bags which, spread evenly, gave me about a 3-4″ depth. To be honest, I probably would have put another 200 litres of finer compost down on top if I could, to add some depth and a finer till. But if you can get your mulch/compost/manure delivered in bulk or make your own compost (we’re getting there), even better. I always go for organic… just because I don’t know what the hell could end up in other non-organic compost mixes!

Mulched no dig bed

I then gave the compost/manure mulch a really good soak. It can be quite prone to drying out at the moment with these warm temperatures so I’ll keep an eye on it. The aim is for the cardboard to do its thing and break down to allow the worms and soil life to flourish underneath.

For this year, I’m going to keep my planting on this new plot light – think salad leaves, radishes, beetroot… Just quick-growing crops that don’t require a huge amount of soil stability or need to root deep down. I also planted in four little ‘Cambridge Favourite’ strawberry plants too, just to see how they get on. I’ll try and keep the strawberry runners in check and it’ll be interesting to see if we manage to get a teeny tiny crop of fruit this year.

strawberries in a no-dig bed

Come autumn, I’ll mulch liberally again and will probably for this first hot growing season keep adding a bit of rich organic compost every few weeks to build up the soil.

We’ve gone from 25C and pure, unadulterated sunshine to persistent rain (but still relatively warm) – which, if I’m honest, is great for the new plot.

I’ll keep you posted on progress!


2016 is Go… Finally.

Hello, there. It’s been a while. Sorry about that. You know how it is… Christmas, the strange in-limbo week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve (my birthday), and then all of a sudden it’s back to normality and you’re firmly in the mix of work and everything else.

lazy lounging

I admit I have barely stepped outside in the last three weeks. I am rapidly becoming a lazy lump and in danger of resembling a plump Christmas pudding unless I get myself motivated. It’s been so utterly miserable weather-wise – those few times when I have ventured into the garden the ground has audibly squelched beneath my feet (but thank goodness East Anglia has as yet evaded the awful flooding of recent weeks) – but today I woke up to large swathes of blue sky and birdsong, and I’m ready to get going with 2016. Finally.

bedfordshire morning - sunrise

I’ve decided that this year, we’re going with my plan to get rid of scrappy lawn and put in some more no-dig veg plots. I half-heartedly attempted this last year, but made the mistake of dumping horse manure directly on top of the lawn, leaving it for a while, and as a result the deep tap roots dandelions and clumps of grass just enjoyed the nourishment and flourished. That’s ok though, because we got a big wild patch filled with sour thistle, dandelion and thick grasses that we’ve been using to feed the bunny rabbit for free, who in turn provides us with lots of lovely poop for compost!

How to make no-dig plot

Laying out the no-dig plot

This time around, I’m going to smother the grass with cardboard and then dump the compost and manure on top. I have some organic compost that I bought last year on offer, but we have a big job of turning our three compost heaps ahead of us as buying in all your compost is just not an economically sound approach.

Chitting Potatoes on windowsill

Next up is getting the potatoes chitting. I’ll be on the lookout for Picasso again as they were a storming success last season (we finished the last one from our harvest over Christmas), and I might even try and find space for a row or two of Charlotte.